COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite it being Courtney Banghart’s 11th postseason appearance and UNC women's basketball's 29th NCAA Tournament appearance, the level of excitement for the Tar Heels this March is the same.
“(It) just never gets old, the opportunity that awaits, the magnitude of the event,” Banghart said in UNC’s press conference on Friday.
While last year’s experience — upsetting No. 4 seed Arizona in Tucson and going up against South Carolina in the Sweet 16 — provides UNC’s players with some confidence, the Tar Heels will face a tough road to advance to Seattle.
The first step in No. 6 seed North Carolina’s trek back to the Sweet 16 is its contest against No. 11 seed St. John’s at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Against the Johnnies, the Tar Heels will need to pay particular attention to defending the perimeter and disrupting redshirt senior guard Jayla Everett’s flow.
Make Everett uncomfortable
The Red Storm roster includes three ACC transfers. Aside from the two former Notre Dame players in Danielle Cosgrove and Danielle Patterson, the most notable of the transfers is Everett — a former Pitt Panther who paces the team with 16 points per game.
Everett will be coming in hot, as her game-winning floater with .3 seconds on the clock sealed the Red Storm’s 66-64 victory over Purdue on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament First Four game.
“She has a ton of experience,” Banghart said. “The finality of your career (and) your athletic mortality is on full display here in the NCAA Tournament. She takes and makes a lot of tough shots."
Banghart said Everett reminded her of Wake Forest’s Jewel Spear, as both are a huge focal point of their respective offenses. On Saturday, the Tar Heels' defense needs to make Everett uncomfortable.
“(Everett is) just a really gifted offensive player that’s going to require a good defensive effort by us 1 through 11," Banghart said.
Prioritize the perimeter
St. John’s ranks top-25 in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage behind a 36.1 percent clip as a team.
The Red Storm’s prowess from the perimeter is a full-team effort. Aside from Everett, who leads the team with 75 3-pointers on 42.6 percent shooting, Kadaja Bailey, Unique Drake and Patterson are all formidable threats for behind the arc.
In Thursday’s game against the Boilermakers, St. John’s canned 11 3-pointers at a 47.8 percent clip. Drake and Everett combined for seven 3-pointers. Cosgrove added two and Mimi Reid and Patterson each chipped in a trey as well. North Carolina will have to come out focused, as eight of the Red Storm’s 11 shots from distance against Purdue came in the first half.
Banghart said on Friday that playing in the ACC, especially against teams like Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, have prepared the Tar Heels really well to take on St. John’s.
“We’ve seen lots of really good players, lots of dynamic threats, lots of deep teams,” she said. “You hope that what you’ve been prepared for all year, in terms of the talent that you’ve played against, prepares you well for an opportunity like this.”
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